- Hello Tom,
Gnosticism as you are probably aware exists in many groups including
Jewish groups independent of christianity. However there is a thread
of continuity between the Jewish groups and some of the christian
There are of course many ways to classify gnosticism. One way to
classify gnosticism is to identify the person in history that the
gnostic group claims knew "the secret" initially and then passed it
on to others.
Some of the Jewish groups point to Moses as the source of a secret or
hidden torah. In the DSS (Dead Sea Scrolls), this seems to be
referred to as the nistar (hidden) torah - see schiffman's reclaiming
the DSS. The pharisees also have legends of a hidden torah with Moses
as the first initiate. If you read John 5:46 and 2 cor 3:cor 13-16
both Jesus and Paul seem to indicate that they know a secret that is
contained in Moses' writings. Many Christians are unaware that 2 cor
3:cor 13-16 actually points to the event where according to Jewish
legend Moses received the hidden torah from God (ex 34:31). Notice in
EX 34:31 that Aaron and the leaders return or "turn" to Moses and
Moses talked to them. According to Jewish legend this is where Moses
passed the hidden torah to the Jewish leadership. Paul also uses the
term "turn" concerning being able to understand the "secret" hidden
in the torah.
So some Jewish groups, Jesus and Paul all point to a secret that was
known by Moses and placed in the torah that others including Jews did
not "know." We can also add Clement of Alexandria to the list of
people pointing to Moses knowing a secret placed in the torah
(stromata). I would also submit that Philo also points to Moses
knowing a secret that he passed to the levitical priests but the
evidence for this is more general than those that I've already
By contrast many christian groups such as those founded by
carpocrates, point to Jesus as the source of a secret. The groups
listing Jesus as the source of the secret are in my opinion very
different than those listing moses as the source of the secret.
Without going into a lot of background the moses group includes but
is not limited to:
Justin Martyr (see debate with trypho)
clement of Alexandria (see stromata)
Cyril of Jerusalem (reasons given later)
Gregory of Nazianzen (reasons given later)
the author of the epistle of barnabas (reasons given later)
Peter (reasons given later)
the author of luke (chapter 24 et al)
the author of John (john 5:46)
The author of matthew (chapter 16)
Part of the levitical leadership as indicated by clement of alexandria
the Jesus group includes but is not limited to:
The author of thomas
christian churches that indicate that the teaching of the secrets of
heaven started with Jesus and was given to apostles (most commonly
referred to as apostolic succession)
All of the above groups do indicate that there is a secret of some
kind. The Moses group knew the contents of the secret while the Jesus
group only knew (or knows) of the existence of the secret. I
typically refer to the first group as true gnostics and the latter
group as false gnostics
- Hi Jerry,
Thank you for the post and the interesting idea. I would venture to say that there is more than one 'secret' we are dealing with here in regard to Gnosticism.
Perhaps some of this mystery can be clarified by determining what part John the Baptist played in influencing Jesus, Simon Magus, and even possibly Mary Magdalene. Was the 'Baptist' a Gnostic, and what did he lay down in the mix? Was Simon Magus the successor to John, over Jesus as is suggested by Picknet and Prince, in the "Templar Revelation?" (page 321, as a reference, not as bad as Freke and Gandy) The big question if so, is why Simon over Jesus, if this is indeed the case. The Baptist certainly seems to belong in one of your groups or the other. If John and Jesus had a falling out or major difference it could have something to do with the following......
John 5: 33. Ye have sent unto John, and he hath borne witness unto the truth.
34. But the witness which I receive is not from man: howbeit I say these things, that ye may be saved.
35. He was the lamp that burneth and shineth; and ye were willing to rejoice for a season in his light.
36. But the witness which I have is greater than that of John; for the works which the Father hath given me to accomplish, the very works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.
37. And the Father that sent me, he hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his form.
It seems that Gnosticism is a different experience for everyone. It is obvious to me that many did not understand this, in the past or present. The nature of form is always in question, certainly as it pertains to spirit, or the non corporeal.
Tertullian in his "Treastise of the Soul" suggests errors of Gnostics. See: Chapter XVIII."-Plato Suggested Certain Errors to the Gnostics. Functions of the Soul." This is of course consistent with some of Clement's work, who also points out philosophical errors, of almost everyone else. The point here is Gnostics may all have a 'secret' and may all for the most part be considered wrong, depending....
"For Plato maintains that there are certain invisible substances, incorporeal, celestial, divine, and eternal, which they call ideas, that is to say, (archetypal) forms, which are the patterns and causes of those objects of nature which are manifest to us, and lie under our corporeal senses: the former, (according to Plato, ) are the actual verities, and the latter the images and likenesses of them. Well, now, are there not here gleams of the heretical principles of the Gnostics and the Valentinians?" (Tertullian, "Treatise of the Soul")
I think the safe way to place folks as Gnostic is to include Gnostics, as, all seekers of "knowledge of God." I realize why all would not see things the same. One, we all are the product of our own psyche, and earthly experience, which makes our perceptions different. We also see the effect of what Clement calls the carnal spirit differently. Look how vastly different Clement and Carpocrates perceived the sex drive. (I am including the sex drive as part of Clement's description of carnal spirit)
"Now the vital force, in which is comprehended the power of nutrition and growth, and generally of motion, is assigned to the carnal spirit, which has great susceptibility of motion, and passes in all directions through the senses and the rest of the body, and through the body is the primary subject of sensations. But the power of choice, in which investigation, and study, and knowledge, reside, belongs to the ruling faculty. But all the faculties are placed in relation to one -- the ruling faculty: it is through that man lives, and lives in a certain way." ( Stromata, Bk 6)
Some Christians thought of the force of the 'carnal spirit' in some of its influence was that of Satan himself, while others thought of this force as just natural bodily tendancies. While others, probably Carpocrations, embraced the sex drive, as related to spiritual transcendence. The conflict in this perception goes on today. But this extends to the non or corporeal nature of the "Father."
Moses (and Luke), in the common perception of their experience with spirit and God, (having corporeal form) is not alike with Heracleon's description of God as pure spirit. Heracleon of Alexandria, Fragment 24, on John 4:24 (In John 4:24a, it says,) "God is spirit." Undefiled, pure, and invisible is his divine nature....." No doubt the 'secret' you are referring to is somehow related to the nature of spirit, and the corporeal nature of both God and the soul.
Platter Flats. OK
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- Hi Andrew,
are IMO to be understood allegorically
and not as historical claims as to where
Philo got his ides from."
I don't understand completely if Philo and what he understands is relevant to the GThom, unless it is to get a better understanding of pre-Christian gnosticism. I have to agree with Ehrman's idea in "Lost Christianities" that the Gnostic texts presume some knowledge that readers of the time understood. They presume an understanding that we don't exactly get.
This might connote some close community or secular ties with this literature. Certainly the understanding, presumed to be a form of gnostic belief, existed from the earliest of times in the first Christian communities.
Following the more Orthodox sects is easier, trying to figure out what is hidden in allegory, when the secret itself could be the allegory, is more complex. Especially if they always hid it.
Thomas concerns secrets, starting with its alternate title, Secret Sayings," and, "These are the words of the living Jesus......" Thomas has to be designed as a secret document. It is more obvious than just what it states, because if these are the words of the 'living Jesus' they are indicated as secret sayings, therefor they are, the secret sayings of the living Jesus. This is implied, no? I think the sayings about giving holy things to dogs and pigs applies to this idea. Thomas was not for anyone who would or could not aspire to being gnostic.
Whatever the boundaries or specifications of Plato or Philo as to gnosis, the ground floor of gnosis with Jesus, are the words of Jesus. Jesus wisdom. This is the most obvious in determining types of gnosticism that can be attributed to Thomas. We can then determine what did and did not effect the gnostic characteristics of Thomas. I think it is safe to say that we can determine gnostic characteristics in Thomas.
One commonality of early Gnostics seemed to be understanding the earthly state is flawed. It stands to reason that the GThom would seek to specify these flaws, as do many of the other Gnostic texts, especially those concerning 'Sophia' and creation myths. It is easy to find the flawed in Thomas. I think that is part of the point.
All the Thomas parables are about those who are in one way or another flawed and are certainly without gnosis or Christian Gnosis. Thomas parables are written with a common feature that can be explained in a very artistic classic manor. They can all be seen as if they were a picture, or one of the more complex drawings from the Book of Jeu. The parables work like classic paintings, only they are read, not seen, but pictured. Then contemplated. We all find out our own psyche(s) differ in what is pictured. This is probably also intended for this type of literature.
The only thing that can go beyond the scope of the picture in the parable, is for the reader to do it. You can enter the situation of the parable as if you were part of the picture, and add yourself to the characters of this moment in time, then move on. You can add just those in the GThom, or just those others from the other parables. You can enter as yourself. As you imagine yourself from the first parable to the last something is else is happening.....
As you read the GThom for the first time, and thereafter, in full, you go from parable to parable gathering Jesus wisdom on the way. You also gather what the parables tell you about the faults of the flawed.
Remember at this point the reader is still reading and contemplating Thomas. What happens next is what has always been in front of our faces, we solve the 'parable world' problems with our own, and Jesus wisdom. And, at the end of the GThom were the reader turns away and goes back to his own world, were he sees the flawed and the faulty. Those parable pictures become a reflection into the reader's own world. Some can benefit, some will never see the flaw(s) in one's self.
The world can become a parable. You get to be the 'star' of the picture where the ear sees, and the eye hears. You get to know and avoid the worst earthly faults. If the things you contribute with Jesus wisdom and the parables work, in real life, and make your life better that seems to be a self-evident sign that the GThom may be real Jesus wisdom.
Success never fails. You do have to see the allegory within the allegory, or you fail. I mean here something like only comprehending a literal meaning to a parable, and not looking for double or multiple allegorical in the text. We can show this by our own experience in this group, like back in the "mustard seed' discussion days. The parables set a stage to play out. Our individualism makes our own perception of things 'our own' but using Thomas wisdom adds a commonality. This may also be intentional to the literature characteristics of the parable.
Show Philo or Plato this kind of self-evident application to their Gnosticism and I think it would be adapted into their philosophy. The opposite might also apply, like Clement who obviously considered many philosophies in his own life and spirituality. What looks common to their philosophies of gnosis or their scheme is a perfection in the pleroma, a faulty form in the body, on earth, and the development of the human psyche to realize all three.
The parable of the 'sword and the wall,' can be seen as also using a picture. Putting 'the sword into the wall with the steady hand,' is essentially the same task as imagining a parable as a picture. In the case of saying 98, we have a picture of someone using a 'picture' symbolized as the wall, and imagined as his intended victim, and practicing the methodology.
The methodology, what happens between the time the sword hits the wall or target, can be a massive amount of information. This would include all kinds of considerations, or possibly more correct here, 'reflections.'
Platter Flats, OK
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